F1 Rejects Interview with

Alex Yoong

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Alex Yoong Alex Yoong has had a tough time in his chosen field of motorsport. While some things went his way - a supportive family, a government and sponsors willing to back him all the way - many things went against him - pushed through the categories perhaps ahead of his time, a spot in F1 next to a future World Champion at the worst team on the grid, limited testing to get comfortable in the car, a crisis of confidence at the wrong times.

But today's world has no time for detail, explanation and excuses. Headlines cover only the obvious, and the most blatant of facts was that Yoong struggled in F1. Deserving of the "worst ever" tag? His career has been a varied one, ranging from Europe (F3, F3000), Japan (FNippon), the US (Champ Cars) and Australia (V8s). However, he has recently hit the spotlight in A1GP, and his performances there may just have put the "worst ever" accusations to rest.

It was while at the Eastern Creek round of A1GP that our UK Correspondent Stephen Slater set up an interview for F1 Rejects with Alex. We thank Alex for his time, honesty and for not kicking us out when we revealed we were from the F1 Rejects website! For full details of Alex's time in F1, and information on his career, please see our Alex Yoong biography.

• How did you first get involved in motorsport?

My father raced, and my mum raced, and that's how I got involved. I was very fortunate actually, as in Malaysia there is no motorsport scene - well, it's very poor. And so if I didn't have the parents I had, I think there's no way in hell I would have got involved in motorsport at all, let alone Formula 1.
• We've read that you were interested in water-sports as well. Did you have to choose between the two?

Yeah, I did water-skiing for quite a long time, but it was always a bit of fun. I love sports, and it was a bit of fun to do before I got big enough to go racing. There wasn't any go-kart scene in Malaysia, so I had to wait until I was 15 and big enough to drive a road car, when we'd race Proton Satrias. So it wasn't ideal at the beginning, but after 2 year of racing those crap cars I moved on to single-seaters, and that's where the real education began.
• That was in Formula Asia - how was your season in 1995 when you had 8 wins?

That was really good - I should have won the championship. It was my own fault, I crashed out quite a bit. It was good fun though, because although it was the Asian championship, they had a couple of foreigners come over, so it was a very good yardstick and there were quite a few Europeans working for the teams. So it was very competitive. Narain [Karthikeyan] came from there, and Ananda Mikola came from there as well.
• How did you find the adjustment to Europe, when you went over there to do Renault, F3 and F3000?

More the culture shock. And the racing was tough. I mean, you've really got to be racing in Europe if you want to be racing in Formula 1. Formula 1 is not really a world championship, it's a Euro-centric sport! This [A1GP] is a true world championship.

You've just got to get straight away into the European way of thinking, and it's different. Just like in Australia, where it's a different way of doing stuff. I do think European racing is the most professional form of racing around, just due to the intensity and the competitiveness. And it was really good to learn there.
Yoong driving British Formula Renault in 1995.
• Your F1 debut at Monza, was a traumatic weekend for the sport, with September 11, Alex Zanardi's crash.

That was a #&%$@! weekend of racing. None of us wanted to race really. I mean, I saw Zanardi's crash, I was watching the car race when it happened. It's funny, at the first drivers' briefing no-one there looked like they wanted to go racing. But, you know, at the end of the day we had to go out and do it.
• You did well to qualify, because you had to change cars a couple of times.

Yeah, no, I was very pleased with qualifying. I was not far off Fernando Alonso. But it kind of went downhill from there, in the race. I wasn't fit enough basically, and I threw [the car] off towards the end.
• Your teammates were Alonso and [the man whom we hope to be] the next World Champion, Australia's Mark Webber - what was it like working with them?

It was very good working with them. It was [also] very unfortunate working with them! Because Alonso had been a test driver with Renault, and Mark had had two years as a test driver for Arrows and Renault, so those buggers got in the car and were as quick as shit!

I had come to the car after being in Japan - having a really shitty season actually and I was always playing catch up, because those guys were on it straight away.
• Did you feel a bit resentful at being compared to them as teammates? Everyone always talks about beating your teammate.

No, no, no. Formula 1's tough. You only really get one shot at it. There are hundreds - I mean, you have a website dedicated to them! - of drivers that didn't make it.

It was tough. When I went to Minardi, I brought a lot of budget and I really thought we'd be testing every weekend in-between races. As it turned out, I only tested 5 days! So, obviously it didn't effect Mark much, as he'd been two years as a test driver, he had no worries. But for me it was a big problem. I was struggling for fitness on race weekends, trying to understand the car and how to get the best out of the new tyres.

My race pace wasn't bad - in quite a few races I was quicker than Mark but I didn't out-qualify him once, you know? I just struggled in qualifying and being confident with the car. But I was very happy with how the season ended, the last few races went really well. I was quicker than Mark in America and Suzuka.
• Did you see any potential to keep going into 2003?

No, no. The rest of the season had just been too bad. I had shot myself in the foot with a really shitty season, so I expected nothing. That's Formula 1!
Alex in his KL Minardi in 2002 at Brazil.
• What was it like working with Paul Stoddart?

Paul is ... Paul. I mean, he's Australian - you guys probably know him better than I do.
• Do you think he'll be back in Formula 1? He's disappeared now [that Minardi's been bought out].

No, I don't think he will. I know he wants to, but I don't think he will.
• What was it like driving the Lotus 72 [in the Historic GP at Monaco in 2002]? Takuma Sato managed to crash his car...

That was a lot of fun at that Monaco weekend. We were doing well, I was leading and then I got stuck in fifth. The gearbox was stuck in fifth so we did the last four laps stuck in fifth! Yeah, around all the hairpins slipping the car going reaahhh-reaahhh. Of course, I got overtaken on the last lap, so I finished second. But it was still a lot of fun!
• When you went over to drive for Dale Coyne in Champ Cars, you had a couple of great qualifying performances. You out-qualified Tiago Montiero, Ryan Hunter-Reay - was Champ Cars something you wanted to do more of?

Yeah, I really adapted to it well, you know Dale Coyne at the time, it was really a customer car outfit. The cars weren't prepared well, they were thrown together, there wasn't a decent engineer, and it was just "Get in the car and drive!"

But I was very happy, because I'd finished Formula 1 strongly, and I went to Champ Cars and I kind of picked up from there - I was driving really well. But Dale's outfit had no money, and I had no money, and that's the way things go.
• Eventually you landed here [Australia] in V8s. What did you think of the Konica series? How does it compare to other series [around the world], in terms of fans and competitiveness between the cars?

I think the Konica and V8 Supercars are incredible. They're very good - great racing, brilliant entertainment for the fans. As far as organisation goes, and the fans and stuff it's as good as anything - better, you know? It's really up there with DTM and stuff like that. And Bathurst is incredible.
Yoong at Mount Panorama driving for WPS Racingin the Bathurst 1000.
• What did you think of Mount Panorama?

I did the 24hr race the year before, and the real Bathurst with WPS racing [in 2004]. Mount Panorama is fantastic. Really, one of my best experiences is driving a V8 Supercar around Mount Panorama.
• It has a long history of [former] F1 drivers coming and doing it when they turn to touring cars. But they don't seem to do that any more.

Yeah, they don't do that. I think it's a lot tougher now to do it, because a V8 Supercar is a very tricky car to drive. Because of the low grip, and skinny tyres. So it's not like single seaters where you have to be a bit young and a bit brave - in V8 Supercars experience counts for a lot, you can't just come over and drive and expect to do well. I don't think I've ever seen anyone come, and drive, and do well, they need time to get into the car and get the experience.
• You've raced tin-tops and single seaters, which do you prefer?

Ahh, single-seaters. They're just so much more enjoyable to drive. The V8's kind of fiddly to drive. There's no grip, you can't really attack with the car, you've got to be really careful. But having said that, tin-tops around Bathurst was one of the most enjoyable experiences I have ever had. Because a V8 Supercar moving, and with so much power, going up and down the Panorama circuit - it's amazing.

When I went out in the BMW 2 the year before - OK, I don't think we did any laps without a misfire! but the car was just like driving on another circuit. But Bathurst in the V8 is just very special. It's just incredible up the top given how much the car moves around, and it's so hard to pick where you want to be exactly. You see, that's why those old buggers are so quick, years of experience is going to count for so much.
• You're now the Malaysian seat holder and first driver in A1GP. Your second driver, Fairuz Fauzy, do you rate him? How much opportunity do you think he will get in the rest of the series?

OK, his results have not been great, but we've tested him, we've raced him, his potential's good. He's got a good understanding of the car, his natural ability is good, he just needs to find something to get the most from within himself. He's got the right ingredients to be quick, he's just not hitting it, you know? But we're very impressed with him. He'll be back in the car. I don't know how many times.
• Are you enjoying you time as a commentator in F1 [for Malaysian TV]?

It's kind of presenting, not really commentating, but yeah, it's fun actually! I do the in-and-out, but for the commentary they take up the ITV feed.
• Finally, the question that we always ask people - what is you best and worst moment in motorsport?

My best moment would be my first race in Formula 1, that was a really special moment. You can ask any driver who dreams about Formula 1, and they actually finally get there it's very special.

The worst moment - well, I don't really want to talk about my worst moments!
Click here to read Alex's Full Biography on our site!

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